May 7, 2012
The internet provides people with access to multimedia communication tools, interactive processes for collaboration and participation as well as social platforms for sharing content or joining together to pursue a variety of causes. In recent years the internet has also developed from a predominantly passive entertainment medium into a serious platform for the economically and politically active. The internet has matured. Increasing online transparency ensures that thought-provoking topics generate their own momentum – depending on whether they strike a chord – spreading virally at breakneck speed and can thereby gain major relevance.
The worlds of politics and business are increasingly compelled to adopt a constructive approach to tackling new online paradigms (e.g. the processes of opening up value creation networks) and engaging with a better informed public. All those involved can benefit and learn from this. The products are experimental organisational structures and modern working methods that enable users to provide more interactive input. Online users stimulate innovation and value creation processes, for example, in the areas of open innovation or open government by introducing external knowledge and new ideas. One of these modern working and organisation tools that has been established due to opening-up processes is the “wiki”.
The basic idea of a wiki (which means “fast” in Hawaiian) is the online swapping of skills and aptitudes or expertise and knowledge from any place and at any time. Wikis are a typical example of the principle of user-generated content. Their objectives are the transformation of users into authors and the acquisition of existing knowledge in order to generate new knowledge. The arguably best known wiki – the free encyclopedia Wikipedia – is used by millions of people every day. Between 2001 and early 2012 “Wikipedians” had used the medium to independently publish around 1.4 million German articles and nearly 4 million English articles. But other languages and even dialects are also catered for, with the result that this fount of knowledge has virtually become an integral part of many people’s everyday lives. Another well-known (German-language) wiki, for example, painstakingly uncovers dissertations that are alleged to be the product of plagiarism.
Wiki technology was developed in 1995 as a tool for collaborative knowledge generation and management in the software sector and has become established as a popular tool for processing information to this day. Its innovative feature is the free and direct editability of the text content and structure of each user’s articles by every other user. Wikis are easy to operate because by selecting the “edit” option on a wiki page every visitor can become an author themselves and via their very own browser can alter, augment, disseminate or link content. Wikis are distinguished by certain characteristics. They are collaborative, because they are essentially based on the work carried out together by a group of users; transparent, because the activities of each user can be traced by every other user, and they are open-ended, because a wiki is never finished but remains permanently open to further editing via potential links.
More and more people are reaping the benefits of wikis. Norway tops the European rankings, for example. 70% of the country’s population use the tool, followed by Luxembourg (67%) and Finland (63%). Germany’s share of 58% puts it in Europe’s top 5 and is thus much higher than the EU average of 39%.
Wikis can boost the innovative capacity of a company or an institution and are increasingly being used for not only internal matters (process descriptions, project planning) but also external projects (open innovation, open government). In the digital age with opening-up processes in politics, business, science, culture and society they offer a modern way of working that is in step with an interlinked and dynamic business world. Up until now inter-departmental or company-to-company collaboration has made use of specific company disk drives, external storage media and email accounts. Coordinating collaborative projects in this way is laborious and rather inefficient. It is unclear where documents are stored, which of the different versions are up to date and thus whether the documents are valid and retrievable.
Wikis make outdated and different versions of files, lost files and emails to coordinate activities a thing of the past, because individual articles can be linked in a user-friendly way and every authorised user has simultaneous access to the wiki. Stored documents thereby obtain a clear, up-to-date structure, and work processes are optimised.
Nevertheless, both opening-up processes and working with wikis require appropriate strategies, coordinators and persons responsible. True, the internet does offer the ideal environment for the (decentralised) generation of knowledge and ideas, because users adopt an unbiased and unconventional approach to problem-solving and thereby introduce out-of-the-box solutions into the innovation process. However, good ideas sourced from the crowd (the online community) are implemented in hierarchical structures, so that the knowledge or the innovations can also be made useful. For this, ideas and pools of knowledge must also be screened by responsible experts for their relevance and transposed into the structures required for the company.
Interactive collaboration on wikis thus poses new challenges for companies. This applies to both the internal and external use of wikis. For example, every participant should see a direct benefit for their individual work. Furthermore, management requires first and foremost expanded interaction powers in order to adequately maintain and guide collaboration in virtual spaces.
Working on joint projects brings people together. It gives rise to new organisational cultures that will increasingly become fixtures in people’s everyday lives. One product of this modern organisational culture is already visible in the various successful opening-up phenomena in the internet and the growing use of wikis. People experience new tools for generating knowledge in an experimental way and thereby learn that managing knowledge is always process oriented and never ends.
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